Monday, 15 April 2013

At the gates of a paradise

Back to our November winery tour in Rioja, Spain. I found tackling this post very challenging because I knew whatever I wrote and showed I would never be able to give proper credit to the Remelluri bodega, officially Granja Nuestra Señora de Remelluri, in Labastida, again in the Álava province of the Basque country. As far as I can tell, it may very well be a piece of paradise on Earth.

The more I spend time looking at the photos the deeper I get lost in the beauty and serenity of the place. Some visitors have described they felt as if they were suddenly in Tuscany. I must protest. As magnificent as some regions in Tuscany are I do believe it is not fair towards the other spectacular places to regard Tuscany as the highest standard against which every other setting is measured. Ultimate rural beauty can be found in countless locations. In my view, each and every one of them, including Tuscany, should be appreciated in its own right, not in comparison to the views in any other place. To me Remelluri certainly is a unique place of breathtaking beauty and fascinating history.

Remelluri is one of the oldest wine-growing estates in Spain. The title derives from a Count Erramel of Alava thanks to whom the location was called Erramelluri. It is situated at the foot of the Toloño mountain and dates back to the 14th century when monks from the Toloño monastery started a farm there, hence the Nuestra Señora or Virgin Mary also in the present title. The monks left the place in the 15th century but hermits continued to maintain the sanctuary, whereas a local community organization started to take care of the farm to provide food and drink for the pilgrims that came to visit the shrine.

In the early 19th century, the Santa Sabina chapel was burned down in one of the civil wars. A few years later, everything including the chapel was sold to the highest bidders. The core of the estate and the chapel went to a landowner in Labastida. This farm of some 20ha (approx. 50ac) remained undivided for more than a century and was acquired by the present owners in 1967. Since then Remelluri has been regaining its former lands. The estate currently comprises some 150ha (370ac), 100ha (approx. 250ac) of which are vineyards in three small valleys of the Toloño mountain.

The average size of a vineyard plot in Rioja is only 0.5ha (1.2ac). (We have a vacant plot of that size behind the row of spruce trees sheltering the garden. Too bad a vineyard will not survive here in our time but with the current speed of global warming this may happen sooner than we care to believe...) Also at Remelluri, the scenery is patched with some 200 plots that are cultivated using traditional ecological methods. Some of the vineyards are at 800m, which is the highest elevation where vines are grown in Rioja. The area provides a unique microclimate: the mountains protect it from Atlantic winds and temperature variation between night and day is greater than elsewhere, which favours a mild and late maturing of the grape.

If you saw my post on our visit to the winery of Marqués de Riscal (here) you must have guessed by now that this visit was completely different. On a visit to Remelluri, the technicalities of winemaking are not the main point but you are allowed, or rather invited, to take a walk around the estate. There are three suggested tours to choose from. If you like you can take them all as long as you book in advance. The walks are free but they want to keep the capacity limited to guarantee all visitors an enjoyable and one-of-a-kind experience.

The 30 to 90-minute walks will lead you through the vineyards, to the Santa Sabina chapel (more about the chapel in a separate post here) and to an impressive necropolis. There was a village of Christian settlers in the valley in the 10th and 11th centuries. The tombs carved in stone, called Tumbas de Santa Eulalia, form the graveyard of those settlers. There are 300 of them in all sizes. Some are clearly visible open holes in the stone, some are now completely filled with soil and are growing grass.

The necropolis makes you wonder why these Christians living under Moors buried their dead in this manner. Was is because of a contagious disease the survivors tried to avoid infecting the soil with? Were they not allowed to utilize land for their cemetery? Or did they simply bury everyone this way? Whatever the reason, it was imposing to step by the tombs that had already been there for centuries when the monks started their farm there – that have been there for every traveller to see for a thousand years now.

You could spend days at a place like Remelluri. In fact, you could spend there a lifetime and be happy. Or so I thought until I read that Telmo Rodríquez, the son of the man who created the modern bodega, only returned to his family winery after his father’s death a few years ago. I suppose when you are raised at a place like this you will have wine in your veins ensuring you will want to become not only an excellent winemaker but a celebrated winemaking star with a brand of your own and a name known to everyone within the trade. Sometimes this may mean you will need to leave the place to conquer the world and let your old man have his way with the family estate.

We did walk through the Remelluri cellars, too, and found them more spacious than the narrow old cellars we were shown at Riscal. And the tastings of Remelluri’s Rioja Alavesa wines? In the state of blissful happiness reached during the peaceful and uplifting walk around the vineyards bathing in all the colours of the peak of autumn, I would say: heavenly.


  1. Juuri tänään oppilaat kysyivät, että miten sitä viiniä viljellään :) tämä menee huomenna oppilaiden tutkittavaksi ja sopivasti voivat herjoitella englantiakin, kiitos tästä :)

    1. Mukavaa, että löytyi hyötykäyttöä! Terveisiä Italiasta. Yritin hosua noita edellisen matkan postauksia ennen lähtöä, mutta jäivät vähän kesken...

  2. Replies
    1. It was a magical place. I will tell about the chapel one of these days. (We are just travelling in Italy so I haven't found the time to post anything for a while.)

  3. So beautiful photos! Thank you!!!